I‘ve been looking for the term in English for this kind of gestures or ornamentations:

Figuration is understood in the music playing a melody in small note values, in contrast to an ornament. The melody is figured, that means varied designed. Figurations are unstressed intermediate or passing notes in the melody. Because they are unstressed, it does not matter that they can be alien. Intermediate or continuity tones can be diatonic (ladder-like, usually whole-tone-stepping) or chromatic (semitone-stepping and mostly non-conducting). Alternating notes also occur as figurations, upper or lower and again diatonic or chromatic. Similar to the melody-related change notes, there are also change chords.

In German this called figurierter bass and figurierter sopran or descant. If all voices are treated like this we call it: figurierter Choral:

Figurierter Gesang, Cantus figuratus, Italian Canto figurato, is the name given to the song in which figures appears, and it is opposed to the planned chorale singing, who does not have these notations. The figures always consist of the main note, or the note which is actually required for harmony and from other reds belonging to harmony. These figures occur in the foreground in the main voice; and the others who serve her to accompany her have only singular sounds belonging to harmony. Often it is also true that, as the main voice lasts one tone longer, one of the accompanying voices makes a figure on it. Sometimes the figure sometimes even falls into the bass, which is then called a figurative bass (???) Figurierter Kirchengesang is the song that is decorated with the ornamental advice. Thus the choir is figurated, if the cantus firmus is kept in one of the four main parts, but is accompanied by figurative voices, which make many imitations, or have, indeed, been set in the manner of joints. In this way, the chorales of the church are projected forward, so that they can hear the melody and sing more easily. “

Now I have learnt, that figured bass is what we call in German Generalbass.

So I wonder if there are equivalent terms to describe this style for this kind of treatment. Maybe figurative bass and figurative Chorale? Or is it just variation?

  • 2
    Is "chorale prelude" the English term you are looking for? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chorale_prelude Oct 10, 2019 at 17:18
  • The Chorale preludes also contain this style - but the I could also accept the term „ritornell“. What I am asking and looking form is the term for this kind of voice setting, not the forms, where they have been applied. Oct 10, 2019 at 17:27

2 Answers 2


The generic English term variation can be used. It would include variations where figuration is applied to both the melody and the bass.

Just to confirm what we are talking about with music examples, Mozart K 265: http://imslp.eu/files/imglnks/euimg/9/96/IMSLP188992-PMLP55775-Mozart,_Wofgang_Amadeus-NMA_09_26_06_KV_265_scan.pdf

Theme in mostly simple quarter note rhythm

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Most of the variations involve figuration in only one of the voices, like treble...

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...or in the bass...

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...but the final variation uses sixteenth note figuration in both parts after the double bar...

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In English "variation" would include rhythmic figuration in any of the voices.

I think I see the potential confusion between the German term figurierter bass and the English term figured bass.

You can capture the sense of figurierter bass in English with terms like ornamented bass, embellished bass, or just varied bass. The first two terms probably give a clearer sense the changes involve short note values (figuration or diminutions) than the generic term variation.

Also, I understand that diminution and division were used in English to mean variation by rhythmic subdivision, but that is an older usage. It is commonly used today.


  • I would agree with ornamented bass respectively descant and choral. But I wouldn’t post the Mozart Sonata as this kind of variations or something different than I’m varied bass I’m thinking of. Oct 11, 2019 at 15:35

I have found this differentiation:

Choralbuch Style (homophonic) and Choralgesang Style.

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This shows that embellished or varied - like Michael Curtis has proposed - would explain it fine. Actually I wonder why this Choralgesang style is not called a figured bass instead of using (erroneously?) figured bass as synonym for thorough bass.

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